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True grit ... there are 30 more years left down our salt mine

By Linda Stewart

Northern Ireland’s salt supplies are set to last for another 30 years at least after the salt mine at Carrickfergus won planning |approval to excavate a series of new tunnels.

As revealed in the Belfast Telegraph earlier this month, Ireland’s only salt mine had predicted that supplies could only stretch to |another two winters unless it got the go-ahead to extend north-west towards Ballycarry.

But Northern Ireland’s road grit supplies have now been secured after Environment Minister Edwin Poots announced planning approval for Irish Salt Mining and Exploration Co Ltd to extend the mine by almost 279 hectares — the equivalent of 340 football pitches. The plan will also create 10 new jobs and extend the mine’s working life by another 30 years. The salt mine exploits the eastern edge of what was once a land-locked stretch of sea that eventually evaporated.

Workers battled round the clock during the recent cold snap to keep road grit supplies flowing at a time when district councils in England were running short.

But in its planning application the mine warned that current supplies would only last to 2012 and Ireland could be left without an |indigenous operational rock salt source if the planning application was turned down. Tests on lands in the proposed new mining areas have confirmed the presence of large salt deposits.

Mr Poots said: “This is good news for the local economy. The mine is one of only three in the British Isles and supplies salt both throughout Northern Ireland and internationally.

“The application was processed in just six months by the Planning Service, showing the benefits of the public and private sector working together to make a positive impact on the economy and quality of life for our community.

“Irish Salt Mining and Exploration (ISME) makes a significant contribution to the Northern Ireland economy. With this approval we have secured the positions of its 54 full-time employees and up to 10 new jobs, together with a large number of companies and people involved in the supply and maintenance of this industry.

“We have been through the coldest winter in 30 years and tribute has to be paid to the staff at Irish Salt mines who worked around the clock throughout the winter period to ensure there was enough salt to grit the roads.” Chief executive of ISME Danny Quinlan said: “This approval secures the future of the mine in Carrickfergus. In working with Planning Service staff we have been pleased to note their professionalism and courtesy throughout the process. We’ve had a particularly tough winter this year. Nevertheless, due to pre-planning and investing in the latest technologies, ISME has shown that we can compete on a national and international scale.”

Jason Hopps, who heads the mine design and planning team for ISME, said: “We have undertaken more than two years of exploration followed by one year of scoping and preparation of this planning application and I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution of our consultants SLR and all the consultees in the process.”

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